Emmeline Pankhurst

Militant Suffrage Activist

Emmeline Pankhurst, about 1909
Emmeline Pankhurst, about 1909. Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Known for: Emmeline Pankhurst is known as a militant woman suffrage organizer in England in the early 20th century.  She was a popular speaker as well as an activist. Mother of Christabel Pankhurst and Sylvia Pankhurst

Dates: July 15, 1858 - June 14, 1928  (or born July 4, sources differ)

Also known as: Emmeline Goulden Pankhurst

About Emmeline Pankhurst:

Born as Emmeline Goulden in Manchester, England, she attended her first woman suffrage meeting when she was fourteen.

 She was educated in Paris.

In December, 1879, she married Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer who was older than her by 24 years. He was a friend of John Stuart Mill (author of The Subjection of Women). Richard Pankhurst was the author of the first British woman suffrage bill and of the Married Women's Property Acts of 1870 and 1882. 

With her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, Emmeline Pankhurst became active in the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

In 1889, Emmeline Pankhurst with her daughters founded the Women's Franchise League. This organization won the vote for women in elections for local offices in 1894. Emmeline Pankhurst held several local offices.

Richard Pankhurst died in 1898.  He had been supportive of her activism, even when it took her away from their growing children.

In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst had a major role in founding the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), again with daughters Christabel and Sylvia, The motto of the organization was "deeds not words." Emmeline Pankhurst devoted more of her time to its suffrage cause.

Emmeline Pankhurst ran the WSPU from its London office beginning in 1906. Increasingly militant in working against suffrage opponents and for suffrage, she was jailed and went on a hunger strike, resulting in her release and re-arrest twelve times under a "temporary discharge for ill-health" provision.

Emmeline Pankhurst published her autobiography, My Own Story, in 1914.

During World War I, Pankhurst and the WPU ceased their militant compaign, and in exchange the British government released suffragettes from jail. Though keeping the suffrage issue in the background at home, Emmeline Pankhurst spoke on woman suffrage on a speaking tour of the United States during the war.

In 1917, Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women's Party, supporting the war and endorsing a whole platform of equal rights for women, including equal pay for equal work, equal parental rights, and public maternity benefits.

Emmeline Pankhurst stood for Parliament in 1926 but withdrew before the election for health reasons.

Woman suffrage was finally passed in 1928, giving women the same voting rights as men in Britain, and Emmeline Pankhurst died just a few weeks later.

Daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst:

Christabel Pankhurst and Sylvia Pankhurst were active with their mother in the suffrage movement. Christabel was a militant suffragist, active with her mother in the WPSU and Women's Party, and stood for election several times before suffrage was passed. She became active in the Second Adventist movement in the United States, moving back and forth between England and the US, and died in the United States in 1958.

Sylvia Pankhurst worked alongside her mother and sister in many suffrage efforts, but Sylvia was also an active socialist, and supported expanding the franchise for men as well as extending it to women. During the First World War, Sylvia's pacifism separated her from the pro-war efforts of her mother and sister. She had a child, refusing to marry the child's father on political grounds. She continued supporting radical causes and, after World War II, moved to Ethiopia, where she died in 1960.

More About Emmeline Pankhurst:

  • Emmeline Pankhurst. My Own Story. 1914.